The Shakespeare of Sixteens Award for Guest Rapper of the Year
By Brent Ables | 15 December 2012
Despite not having blessed the faithful with a follow-up to last year’s massive XXX, Danny Brown has had a busy year. Maybe you’ve seen his interview with A$AP Rocky (hilarious) or the photo shoot with Kitty Pryde (hilarious!), or had the pleasure of knowing exactly which parts of “I Will” appeal to Brown’s sizable Twitter following. Better yet, even a casual rap listener would have had a hard time avoiding Brown’s unmistakeable voice in 2012: he released one of the year’s very best singles in “Grown Up,” picked up on Ryan Hemsworth’s interpretation of the, uh, “Donkey Kong” theme on “Don’t Give A,” and rapped over a Dilla beat for “Jay Dee’s Revenge.” (In the last case, to admittedly underwhelming results.)
However, it has been in his numerous, uniformly great guest appearances of 2012 that Danny Brown fully affirmed the filthy promise of XXX. Although his singularity has never been in doubt, Brown’s shown himself to be eminently adaptable as well, using the multiple registers and distinct cadences at his command to impart an undeniable force to almost every track he touches. On Ab-Soul’s “Control System,” a dissonant, claustrophobic beat stretches itself into nearly nothing until a snarling Brown enters with extra pills and a purpose. His gravity here is balanced out by the golden-age levity of Alchemist’s “Flight Confirmation,” which also features an ODB-quipping Schoolboy Q and really ought to have soundtracked more parties than it probably did.
Above them all, perhaps, is Brown’s appearance on El-P’s “Oh Hail No.” This isn’t so much a guest spot as it is a showcase: El-P lets the beat drop for a few moments, and just when you think the track’s over, brings the lights back up and focuses every one on a center-stage Brown with his lackadaisical bark. Dr. Dre’s torch-passing verse on “Compton” got a lot of attention this year, but the way El-P puts the focus on Brown for the last minute of this track, almost as if handing off the mic to him, sound every bit as momentous to me. Or, maybe, it just sounds better.